Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"The Appointment" and "Harold"

It’s been a little while since we’ve had a spooky story to post since my computer was sick, so I thought we’d make it up buy putting up a couple of short tales for you. And since we’re now in the haunting season, you might want to collect a few to tell to those Trick-or-Treaters at your home on Halloween night. So light some candles and pull your favorite little monsters around for, “The Appointment” and “Harold”.

The Appointment

A sixteen-year-old boy worked on his grandfather’s horse farm. One morning he drove a pickup truck into town on an errand. While he was walking along the main street, he saw Death. Death beckoned to him.

The boy drove back to the farm as fast as he could and told his grandfather what had happened. “Give me the truck,” he begged. “I’ll go to the city. He’ll never find me there.”

His grandfather gave him the truck, and the boy sped away. After he left, his grandfather went into town looking for Death. When he found him, he asked, “Why did you frighten my grandson that way? He is only sixteen. He is too young to die.”

“I am sorry about that,” said Death. “I did not mean to beckon to him. But I was surprised to see him here. You see, I have an appointment with him this afternoon—in the city.”


When it got hot in the valley, Thomas and Alfred drove their cows up to a cool, green pasture in the mountains to graze. Usually they stayed there with the cows for two months. Then they brought them down to the valley again.

The work was easy enough, but, oh, it was boring. All day the two men tended their cows. At night they went back to the tiny hut where they lived. They ate supper and worked the garden and went to sleep. It was always the same.

Then Thomas had an idea that changed everything.

“Let’s make a doll the size of a man,” he said. “It would be fun to make, and we could put it in the garden to scare away the birds.”

“It should look like Harold,” Alfred said. Harold was a farmer they both hated. They made the doll out of old sacks stuffed with straw. They gave it a pointy nose like Harold’s and tiny eyes like his. Then they added dark hair and a twisted frown. Of course they also gave it Harold’s name.

Each morning on their way to the pasture, they tied Harold to a pole in the garden to scare away the birds. Each night they brought him inside so that he wouldn’t get ruined if it rained.

When they were feeling playful, they would talk to him. One of them might say, “How are the vegetables growing today, Harold?” Then the other, making believe he was Harold, would answer in a crazy voice, “Very slowly.” They both would laugh, but not Harold.

Whenever something went wrong, they took it out on Harold. They would curse at him, even kick him or punch him. Sometimes one of them would take the food they were eating (which they both were sick of) and smear it on the doll’s face. “How do you like that stew, Harold?” he would ask. “Well, you’d better eat it—or else.” Then the two men would howl with laughter.

One night, after Thomas had wiped Harold’s face with food, Harold grunted.

“Did you hear that?” Alfred asked.

“It was Harold,” Thomas said. “I was watching him when it happened. I can’t believe it.”

“How could he grunt?” Alfred asked. “He’s just a sack of straw. It’s not possible.”

“Let’s throw him in the fire,” said Thomas,”and that will be that’.

“Let’s not do anything stupid,” said Alfred. “We don’t know what’s going on. When we move the cows down, we’ll leave him behind. For now, let’s just keep an eye on him.”

So they left Harold sitting in a corner of the hut. They didn’t talk to him or take him outside anymore. Now and then the doll grunted, but that was all. After a few days they decided there was nothing to be afraid of. Maybe a mouse or some insect had gotten inside Harold and were making those sounds.

So Thomas and Alfred went back to their old ways. Each morning they put Harold out in the garden, and each night they brought him back into the hut. When they felt playful, they joke with him. When they felt mean, they treated him as badly as ever.

Then one night Alfred noticed something that frightened him. “Harold is growing,” he said.

“I was thinking the same thing,” Thomas said.

“Maybe it’s just our imagination,” Alfred replied. “We have been up here on this mountain too long.”

The next morning, while they were eating, Harold stood up and walked out of the hut. He climbed up on the roof and trotted back and forth, like a horse on its hind legs. All day and all night long he trotted like that.

In the morning Harold climbed down and stood in a far corner of the pasture. The men had no idea what he would do next. They were afraid.

They decided to take the cows down into the valley that same day. When they left, Harold was nowhere in sight. They felt as if they had escaped a great danger and began joking and singing. But when they had gone only a mile or two, they realized they had forgotten to bring the milking stools.

Neither one wanted to go back for them, but the stools would cost a lot to replace. “There really is nothing to be afraid of,” they told one another. “After all, what could a doll do?”

They drew straws to see which one would go back. I was Thomas. “I’ll catch up with you,” he said, and Alfred walked on towards the valley.

When Alfred came to a rise in the path, he looked back for Thomas. He did not see him anywhere. But he did see Harold. The doll was on the roof of the hut again. As Alfred watched, Harold kneeled and stretched out a bloody skin to dry in the sun.

Author’s Notes:

The Appointment: This story is the retelling of an ancient tale that is usually set in Asia. A young man sees Death in the marketplace in Damascus, the capital of Syria. To escape his fate, he flees to either Baghdad or Samarra in what is now Iraq. Death is, of course, waiting for him. In some versions, Death is a woman, not a man. The story has been told in one form or another by Edith Wharton, the English author W. Somerset Maugham, and the French writer Jean Cocteau. The American novelist John O’Hara entitled his first book An Appointment in Samarra. Woollcott, Alexander; While Rome Burns, New York: The Viking Press, Inc., 1934.

Harold: Several tales in folklore and fiction tell of a doll or some other figure of a person creates that comes to life. In the Jewish legend of the golem, a rabbi uses a charm to give life to a clay statue. When it goes out of control, he destroys it. In Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, a Swiss student discovers how to bring lifeless matter alive and is destroyed by the monster he creates.
In the Greek fairy tale “The Gentleman Made of Groats,” or “Mr. Simigaldi,” a princess cannot find herself a good husband. So she creates one by mixing a kilo of almonds, a kilo of sugar, and a kilo of groats, which is similar to grits, and gives the mixture the shape of a man. In answer to her prayers, God gives the figure life. After many adventures, the two live happily.
The story “Harold” is retold from an Austrian-Swiss legend. Luthi, Max; “Parallel Themes in Folk Narrative and in Art Literature”, Journal of American Folklore 64 (1951): 371-82

We hope you enjoyed these tales and the extra foot notes I threw in from the author concerning their sources. Until next time, my little darklings!

Xane and Dane Dravor

Stories taken from: Scary Stories Treasury. Collected from folklore and retold by Alvin Schwartz

ISBN 0-06-026341-5